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Learning how to eat like a Latvian

Eat | Drink | Explore

From kombucha to klingeris (a pretzel-shaped celebration cake), Latvia has some fascinating food traditions – and Adelaide cafe owner Inga Perkons-Grauze is passionate about sharing them.

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You could be forgiven for thinking kombucha – widely consumed today as a tea lauded for its perceived heath benefits – was a relatively recent discovery by hipsters and health-food enthusiasts. In fact, they’ve been making kombucha cultures in Latvia (and other parts of the world) for many years.

Inga Perkons-Grauze, who owns Adelaide Central Market restaurant The Latvian Lunchroom and will host an event this month titled How to Eat Like a Latvian, says there is a strong homeopathic element to the diet of people in Latvia.

“There’s a lot of probiotic food … things that are good for the gut. Latvians are very good at knowing which herbs are best for which particular ailment; they keep little apothecaries in their own homes.

“They also make their own kombucha … it’s just one of those ancient components of their diet. “

Perkons-Grauze, whose parents came to Australia around 1950 as refugees, grew up eating Latvian food cooked by her mother Astrida and is now on a quest to share the country’s traditional cooking secrets and recipes not just with people in Adelaide, but also in other parts of Australia.

She travelled to Latvia late last year with daughter Anita, meeting mushroom foragers, farmers, breadmakers, bakers, picklers, herbalists and other food producers. The pair wrote a blog of their adventures, gathering information, photos and film footage which Inga wants to pass on through events and, eventually, a book.

“I wanted to find interesting, idiosyncratic but traditional food,” she says.

“I wanted to see what it really means to eat like a Latvian.”

A photo from Inga and Anita's travels in Latvia.

A photo from Inga and Anita’s travels in Latvia.

Among those she spent time with was an elderly woman who makes white butter, created with sour cream and used like a dip or creamy spread.

“It’s whipped and whipped so it’s very light, almost like a marshmellowy texture. You pile it on bread … it’s creamy but doesn’t seem to be as rich and heavy as normal butter.”

Foraging, especially for mushrooms, is a common tradition throughout Latvia. So, too, is smoking, salting and pickling – everything from herrings to eggs and beetroot. This is essential in a country where long, icy winters mean a scarcity of fresh food at certain times of the year.

Staple dishes which help see families through the cold months include koča, a porridge-like meal made with potato, pearl barley and smoked pork, and frikadelle, a meatball soup. A popular treat throughout the country (and at The Latvian Lunchroom) is pirag, a small yeast bun filled with bacon – “they eat those everywhere in the world where there are Latvian people”.

The mother and daughter visited Latvian food markets, as well as producers.

The mother and daughter visited Latvian food markets, as well as producers.

At the How to Eat Like a Latvian event at the Adelaide Central Market Kitchen on March 31, guests will be able to sample pilag, as well as other savoury foods, Latvian beer and traditional sweets such as Medus Kuka (honey cake), Cielavina (a “meringue and chocolate indulgence”) and the celebration cake Klingeris (a yeast cake in the shape of a pretzel which is made with ingredients including sultanas and saffron and covered with nuts).

Perkons-Grauze will also speak about her experiences in Latvia and the country’s food traditions, including how they are shaped by the seasonal calendar

She hopes to tour the country hosting similar events in other places, and also wants to return to Latvia to get gather more information and footage with a view to publishing a book titled How to Eat Like a Latvian and possibly a film.

“With a multicultural society we have the opportunity to taste so many different foods from different parts of the world but there isn’t much going on from Latvia. I’ve always been passionate about sharing it.”

More details about the How to Eat Like a Latvian event can be found here.

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